Sunday, November 25, 2007

Knit On, Gail

It's the end of Thanksgiving week, and, in the blogging community, it has become customary, among those of us who post our thoughts for the world to read, to make a public account of the things we're glad for.

I am glad to have known Gail McHugh. And I am so deeply sorry that I never got to meet her in person. It's amazing and wonderful that through this astounding thing called the Internet, people can make friends in far-flung places, friendships as solid as the face-to-face ones we value at home. Gail was one of those friendships.

Gail McHugh was the internet moderator for KnitU, a service of Knitter's Magazine to provide an online community for knitters everywhere. It was her job each day to preview massive amounts of e-mail, perform magic with HTML, and manage a huge and highly interactive list of enthusiastic cross-commenters on KnitU. Each day, she turned a friendly swarm of e-mails into a list which thousands of KnitU subscribers all over the world read along with their morning coffee or tea. The daily posts on every conceivable knitting topic -- from the latest technique debate to the most pressing charitable need -- were interspersed with Gail's wise and witty editorial commentary.

This was a job she performed with diligence and good humor year after year, and she did it exceptionally well.

Gail was a master knitter, but she did not knit socks, particularly yellow ones. When she was a very small child, an adult handed her double-pointed needles and fine yellow yarn, and tried to teach her to knit and make socks in the same go. For reasons that will never be understood by anyone except Gail herself, the knitting part firmly took hold, but fumbling with sock needles at an early age scarred her for life, so she forever avoided making -- even wearing -- socks. In fact, she avoided socks at all costs.

She did not avoid the Red Sox, however, and was a loyal and enthusiastic fan.

I'm so glad she got to see Boston win the World Series this year.

When I stopped hearing from Gail off-list around that time, I figured she was caught up with managing KnitU and keeping up with the World Series. I had no idea her health was crashing. She was burdened with chronic ailments, and her doctors had been juggling her medications, but there was no indication of terminal illness, so her death took everyone quite by surprise.

I also suspected that she was busy with her current charitable cause -- rounding up donations of knitted items for Covenant House in New Orleans, a well-established community service providing shelter, care and couseling for homeless teens and kids in New Orleans. Gail was one of the first people to step up to the plate after Katrina to realize that, even though no one was freezing to death in the immediate aftermath of the storm, that there would be a need for warm garments during the damp, chilly and windy winter months yet to come.

Between Gail, Ray Whiting of Knitivity, Joan Hamer of JoanKnits, and a few other knitters, a hat drive began in 2005 to "bundle up New Orleans." Gail's prescience was right on the mark -- New Orleans and Gulf Coast aid services were overwhelmed with donations of clothing for warm weather, but as winter approached, there were shortages of warm things. Not only were homeless people in need, but so were thousands of citizens camping out in damaged homes or living in drafty FEMA trailers. Gail's was an enthusiastic voice reminding people that even though New Orleans is in the South, it's not Hawaii, and while 36 degrees and rain might be welcome in Michigan ... to someone in New Orleans, that's cold, baby, and we don't wear shorts in that kind of weather, we bundle up in warm things. Pass the woolies, please!

Gail continued to remind people of the ongoing need in 2006 and into 2007. Even in her last few weeks on this little blue planet, her thoughts were focused on that ongoing need, and she raised a challenge to the KnitU community once again to round up hats and scarves for New Orleans.

Elizabeth Zimmermann used to say, "Knit on, through all crises." So that's what I'm going to do. I'll miss Gail terribly, but I know she's somewhere out there, sitting next to Elizabeth, casting on.

If you'd like to make a hat or other garment to warm a homeless teen in Gail's memory, there's still time to get it there before the holidays. Send a hat, scarf or other warm garment made of superwash wool, a machine washable wool blend, or acrylic yarn to:

Covenant House -- 611 North Rampart Street -- New Orleans, LA -- 70112 -- USA

Remember that teens come in all shapes and sizes, in both sexes. And also don't forget that, stunningly, some of these teens are homeless with a baby or toddler in tow. Please include a note to Covenant House that the donation is in memory of Gail McHugh. And if you make a comment here stating what you sent, I'll add your donation to the totals. We're hoping to round up one thousand items by the holidays.

So long, Gail. I am proud to have known you, and I'll miss you.

And speaking of New Orleans, get yourself over to Knitivity and spend some money.

Look: pretty wool. Ray dyes this himself:

The above, and the other yarn photos in this post, are Ray's yarn. There's lots more. Go and see.

I started to be all coy about writing this part. I was going to post pictures of my works-in-progress using Knitivity yarn, and I was going to coo and purr about how lovely and soft it is, and how you should go check it out, but my Capricorn nature won out, so I'll cut straight to the point:

Not only is Ray Whiting the key person in starting up the drive for hats for New Orleans, he is a fantastic yarn-dyeing entrepreneur as well, and at the moment he can use some business at his website. Ray puts out some amazing dyework, and he is trying to make a success of his business on a shoestring. After riding out Hurricane Katrina in his New Orleans home, he relocated to Houston and is trying to sustain his yarn-dyeing business on his own. Like any small business, the first couple of years are hard.

And, like all retailers, Ray counts on the holidays to make ends meet, and holiday-season sales truly are a make-it-or-break-it deal for a one-person operation.

Ray provides stunning dyework on excellent base yarns that wash and wear beautifully, he offers generous yardage for the price, he provides outstanding customer service, and he's a really nice guy who is community-oriented and who deserves your yarn money.

Also? You can order your yarn in hanks or pre-wound. You can even order custom dye jobs.. Ray has an impressive selection of colors and he is also selling handknit Christmas stockings and his shop model hats at the moment.

Bonus: if you buy yarn from Knitivity to make your hat for Covenant House, you'll double your Karma points: warming up a kid in need and helping a deserving artist succeed in his business.

Enough reasons to go have a look at his site? Good. This is "Glacier Lake," my personal favorite Knitivity colorway:

I'm also thankful that I got to see my family and my husband's over the holiday. I'm proud for the bravery with which no fewer than three of my own relatives are facing cancer treatment right now, and I'm happy for the way the rest of my family has pulled together to support them.

I'm glad for the good cheer provided by my husband's family. Let's say that it's after dinner on Thanksgiving, and you have about fourteen people crammed into the kitchen drinking wine and coffee and helping put away the dishes and the leftovers, and they all get into a good-natured debate about which is the best kind of knife and how to sharpen it, and then, to underscore his point, your nephew-in-law goes out to his car to fetch his knife roll (he's a chef), and he unfurls it on the kitchen table, and there are enough knives in there to make a Stephen Segal movie ... and no one thinks this is the least bit odd? Chances are, you are among my kin.

We cook.

I'm glad for the readers I have, and for the yarn friends I have made on the Internet. I know this sounds all mushy and smarmy, but I still think it's magical that I have a box with a screen that lights up and connects me to people all over the world -- good, solid, real people with whom I can connect at the touch of a button.

Thanks to all of you for reading my offerings, and thank you for your comments. Wherever you were this past week -- sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S., knitting in Australia, or spinning yarn in Ireland, I hope Thanksgiving week was good to you and yours.

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At 6:32 AM, Blogger Redheadskydiver said...

lovely post. Thank you.

At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Ray at Knitivity said...

thank you, Dez. Truly! Your support is a large help!

And I'm another who is sorry for Gail's passing. Although we rarely even exchanged private emails, whenever we did it was always a joy -- like I could almost see the twinkle in her eye as I read her private notes and comments. She will be missed.

At 8:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sitting here, missing Gail. Will get out the needles and some nice Wool-Ease I wasn't sure what to do with until just now. Thank you, Dez.

At 11:14 PM, Anonymous MonicaPDX said...

Well rats; I thought I left a comment earlier, but apparently the innerwebs ate it. Dez, came by to say, "Thank you!" for your lovely comment, and to let you know I replied in comments too. (LJ emails comments to me, but I've got no other way to reply; so I do it the clumsy way. [g])

And lo, I also find out how I can use the superwash not completely used up for another charity project. Cool! Being slow, dunno if I'll manage to mail before the holidays have passed...but it'll still be winter afterwards, after all. Thanks!

At 5:53 PM, Blogger Ann said...

Well, Dez,

Thanksgiving week started a little early for us (the Friday before) when we welcomed a baby to the family (first grand on both sides--he's destined to be one spoiled little bugger!). I sent baby hats to CIC in honor of his birth, and tonight, I cast on another hat for Covenent House (Joan got my first shipment list) in memory of Gail.

I'm hoping to get a couple more finished in time for the holidays.


At 3:08 PM, Blogger Lori said...

I had been waiting to read your tribute to Gail. You're so right, she will be missed.


At 5:17 PM, Blogger Karen Roche said...


someone sent me a link to your blog. I want to thank you for your kind words of memory for my sister Gail. I am truly overwhelmed and comforted by the outpouring of love and sympathy for Gail.

all the best


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